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ASU scientists support call for inclusion in conservation

November 07, 2014

On Nov. 6, a letter signed by 240 of the world’s leading conservationists, including six from Arizona State University, was published in the journal Nature. The letter expresses discontent with a divisive debate occurring in the conservation field, and encourages an ethic of inclusiveness.

In recent years, conservation has become increasingly divided between two approaches. One approach posits that nature should be protected for its own sake, or its “intrinsic value,” while the other emphasizes nature’s benefit to humankind, or its “instrumental value.”

The letter, titled “A call for inclusive conservation,” describes the debate as an impediment to the field’s progress. It also critiques the composition of debate participants, noting a lack of both gender and ethnic diversity.

“This debate presses at the core of why we do conservation – it’s such a significant issue, yet there are almost no female voices speaking out,” says Heather Tallis, lead scientist of the Nature Conservancy and an author of the Nature letter. “Even though women hold more than half of leadership positions in U.S. conservation organizations and top positions in many key international conservation initiatives, we’re not hearing them.”

To remedy this, the letter proposes an ethic of inclusiveness – one that recognizes the merits of each approach and encourages broader participation from the conservationist population.

The letter’s six ASU signatories, all affiliates of the new Center for Biodiversity Outcomes and researchers in ASU's School of Life Sciences support this ethic. In fact, faculty members Leah Gerber, Nancy Grimm, Sharon Hall, Ann Kinzig, Charles Perrings and Helen Rowe  agree that its adoption will help engage and align an expansive audience with conservation efforts.

“In a complex and changing world, promoting the intrinsic value of biodiversity cannot be the only way forward,” says Gerber, founding director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes. “It would be similarly naive to suggest that relying only on the economic benefits of nature will lead to a reversal of biodiversity loss. A blend of both approaches is needed.”

According to the letter, many conservationists – both male and female – are eager to bridge the “instrumental” versus “intrinsic” divide. It adds that such inclusiveness has already been embraced by key conservation actors like the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Nature publishes the open letter as the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, a partnership between the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, prepares to celebrate its launch on Nov. 13-14.

The launch will be marked with a series of events, including two engagements with distinguished ecologist Georgina Mace of University College London. Her recent article, Whose conservation? Changes in the perception and goals of nature conservation require a solid scientific basis, appeared in the journal Science and offers further insight into the debate over approaches to conservation.

For more information on the Georgina Mace engagements and other launch-related events, please click here.